Time slowly drifted past. More and more Tassles fell away, until only 30% of the contestants remained. Helen wasn’t sure whether it was a good or a bad thing, but the Ghosthound’s group was relatively resilient: around 40% of their group remained. The food stand was set up, and Claptrap even provided some standing tables, so people could cluster and chat while enjoying their food.
It had been the Ghosthound’s idea, and Claptrap had been dubious, but the Ghosthound had just shrugged in that way he had, when he was done arguing with you, and despite everyone else’s inability to see what the draw would be, they had done it.
Needless to say, the tables were packed, and people had to wait for the use of that space. Claptrap had also contracted with a local brewer, to bring casks of ale to the event. Ale was typically seen by the people of Deardun as relatively low class and useless, but it truly complimented the flavor of the greasy food greatly.
Plus, the sun was hot overhead, and a cool beverage was refreshing, no matter the flavor. To the brewer’s shock, within a half hour, her stock of ale was sold out. Yelling in a frenzy, she sent all of her 4 employees rushing back to the brewhouse, telling them to bring everything.
“Absolutely everything!” The woman bellowed at their departing backs.
The rich weapons merchants and the representatives of different Styles tsk-ed lightly, mocking the brewer for her serious attitude, all the while sipping on her ale. But then a hush fell over the crowd as an old man with a long, long beard walked slowly into the stands area, surrounded by a dozen or so powerful looking men and women as an entourage.
A hush fell over the crowd, and the people took some awkward steps back, quickly setting down their food and ale, and looked at the ground. Claptrap stiffened, and even Helen sat up straight. Even though she didn’t recognize this particular man, she recognized the Tassle carried by one of the Entourage: the Steel Feather Style, one of the top 3 Styles in Deardun.
He looked down his nose at the stand, stroking his long beard that fell to his feet. He was a large, wide man, with immensely powerful shoulders. If this situation wasn’t handled with delicacy-
“Hello sir, may I take your order?” The male spear attendant’s slightly bored voice echoed out, traveling extremely far in the silence. Claptrap stood behind him, frozen with horror at the flagrant disrespect in the male spear attendant’s tone.
The old man looked side to side very, very slowly. People moved to the side to avoid his gaze. Then he turned to the male spear attendant. “Are you… talking to me, boy?”
“Yes, what can I get for you?”
“Huhuhuh… indeed. What… is this establishment?”
Helen turned away from the ridiculous farce the male spear attendant was creating to glance at the poles: More Tassles had fallen, but they were increasingly unwilling to do so, now that they were close to the 80% failure rate for the group. Or at least Helen believed so. She wasn’t sure how the actual details worked out, so they might not know how close they all were to passing. But it truly seemed that those that had made it this far were in it for the long haul.
“This is Claptrap’s Quick Eatery. We have foods and ales. How may I help you?” The whole group gasped at the male spear attendant’s unconcerned delivery. And the old man of the Steel Feather Style considered him for several long seconds.
“Ale…. you say.”
Several of the rich merchants and those disciples of the higher tiered styles looked guiltily at their ale cups. Their faces flushes with shame, and they inwardly swore to make sure that Claptrap’s Quick Eatery was crushed before the day was through for this shame.
But then those people froze, because the old man was laughing. “Kukukuku, I truly haven’t had ale in quite some time. Don’t tell my wife, but I too enjoy a good ale. What do you have?”
To Helen’s surprise, the male spear attendant simply nodded. “Truly, indulgence is the spice of life. Hey, brewer. What are the ales?”
All gazes turned from the male spear attendant to the brewer woman, who was trembling. “Uh… we have a deep ale… and a shallow one…. And also…. Uh… a r-r-r-red one.”
“And the food?” The bearded man said.
“Cheeseburger, cheesesteak, bbq pulled pork, bbq ribs, and for sides we have fries and mozzarella sticks.”
The bearded man frowned, his face becoming quite unsightly. “I-…..”
There was a long silence that stretched at least a minute. “I…. must admit I don’t know what any of those things are.”
An old hand now at confused customers, the male spear attendant nodded and gestured. “Here, this is our recommended order for newcomers, a cheeseburger and fries, along with a red ale..”
A stumbling and stammering Claptrap came forward and handed the food to the male spear attendant, who passed it to the bearded man. He slowly unwrapped the food, and then brought it to his mouth. His mouth stretched wider and wider, until he took a huge bite that was fully ½ of the cheeseburger.
Chewing very slowly, the man never blinked. Then he swallowed heavily, and took a swig of red ale. There was a moment of silence as the audience watched with bated breath. This bearded man was a social strata above them all. An actual elder of a Style. How would he-
“Ohoho, excuse me. Truly, an excellent place, is this Claptrap’s Quick Eatery. I am Aethon Thai. What are you called, boy?”
“Ah, my name is Rog-”
A low gong sounded. Helen turned back to the poles. More Tassles had fallen from poles, and it had apparently reached the 80% cut off. Now more Tassles were being removed, but they were taken to the winners pole, where they hung proudly. But not all Tassles were removed.
6 Tassles remained hanging on their poles, and it announced that these were competing for the final reward for total time spent under the Challenge of Tarnak. The Tassle that had hung alone on the 19th pole remained still drifting proudly.
But what was most interesting about the other Tassles that remained was that there was a single pole where two remained. The Ghosthound’s pole, where his emerald Tassle was facing off with a bright orange Tassle.
For a long while, Randidly was able to simply play with his strange emerald wisps, ignoring the bickering of the outside world as the distracting nonsense it really was. His physical body just needed to stand their and support the weight anyway, there was nothing very special about the task. It was purely endurance.
But after a time, an indeterminate time that resisted all of Randidly’s puzzled attempts to measure it, he felt the difficulty inch upward. But still, it was within reason. But a few minutes later, the difficulty shot sharply up. It seemed that although they could withstand that level of weight, there were much fewer people who could handle the increased weight.
Almost unwillingly, Randidly left his emerald wisps and returned to solely focusing on his physical body, meeting the weight head on. The first thing that Randidly did was activate Mana Strengthening. It was a pretty quick depletion, it would last him an hour, but he also engaged more directly with his passive Golden Roots of Yggdrasil, drawing mana from the ground into his body.
As he did so, Randidly focused on the feeling of the warm energy flow, and visualized the thick vital roots of energy that he wanted running up to him. It was a slow and clumsy method, but as Randidly kept his focus up, he felt his Aether start to pulse in response. Those thick roots pressed downward, splitting and spreading, drawing the energy towards him. Slowly, his drawing speed increased, if only slightly.
The weight was a crushing presence, and now Randidly’s temper flared wildly. It wasn’t even his temper really, it was the primal, vicious side of him that hated the constraints of the world. It hated powerfully and purely, like a child. And to it, this weight was the ultimate evil. He would break the world itself to rip it to pieces.
But again, Randidly reigned in that temper. Although he powerfully desired it, he couldn’t allow himself to explode with force. There was no point. He was aiming for a longer goal. He simply had to endure.